Longevity and Knees

Stamford RafflesRaffles

Stamford Raffles was an exceptional man. Best remembered as the founder of Singapore, he had vision, energy and ability. The only thing he lacked was longevity and he died at the relatively young age of 44.

No doubt the rigours of living in the tropics in the early 19th century took their toll on his health but could it have been something else?

Finite Energy Theory

It was a commonly held belief in Britain at that time that people were born with a finite store of energy and that this energy should be conserved and not expended in unessential activities like exercise. Raffles had boundless energy and his contemporaries might have speculated that this is why he burnt up his reserves too quickly and died early.

Lifespan Measured in Breaths Theory

This way of thinking is similar to some Indian philosophies where it is thought that our lifespan is measured in breaths and that we are destined to live a set number of breaths and once we breathe our last allotted breath, time’s up.

This could be why yogis place so much emphasis on controlling our breathing. If we could slow down our breathing by half we would live twice as long, according to that thinking.

When we exercise vigorously, we breathe faster. Does this mean we are actually shortening our lives? Could this be why so many professional footballers and other sportsmen seem to die young?

Most experts would discount these theories and argue that it is proven beyond doubt that the benefits of exercise outweigh any negatives.


IMG_2059But does the same apply to kneecaps? And hip joints? Are kneecaps designed to last for only a certain number of movements, say five million steps, and after that limit is reached they are worn out and need replacing, like a car part? Or are kneecaps capable of regenerating themselves and, if so, is continued exercise of the knees a good thing?

I ask this as someone who has probably used up his quota of steps and suffers from occasional knee pangs. Any expert opinion would be welcome.

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Traveller’s Palm

I cannot claim to have green fingers, especially as I employ a gardener to do all the hard work.

But one gardening achievement I am rather proud of is my traveller’s palm.

When I planted it in my garden some 5 years ago it was quite a puny sapling.

My traveller's palm sapling in 2009

Since then it has grown into a magnificent specimen with a fan of symmetrical branches and a sturdy trunk.


What’s the secret? Apart from luck in picking a suitable spot for planting, regular watering with worm tea (produced from my home vermiculture kit) might have had something to do with it. That, and regular pruning by the gardener of the lower stalks as they become old, brown and tatty.

Travellers Palm seeds. Source: Wikipedia

The tree has never flowered so far which is a pity because their seeds are an incredible, vivid lapis lazuli colour. In their native Madagascar, Traveller’s Palms are pollinated by lemurs. We are not likely to get lemurs in our garden in Malaysia. Could monkeys do the trick? Or one of our strange squirrels perhaps?

Malaysian Squirrel

Some say that travellers palms are not good to have around because water collects at the junctions of the stalks and provides a breeding ground for the aedes mosquito which transmits the nasty dengue fever virus. While that could be true, far more common habitats for aedes mosquitos are clogged gutters, plates under potted plants and discarded plastic containers. It would be a shame to shun the traveller’s palm for this reason.

Raffles Hotel Singapore advertising material

The East-West orientation business mentioned in this image is supposed to be a myth. However the orientation of the leaves on my tree is exactly East-West so perhaps there is something in it after all.


If Raffles Hotel in Singapore needs any help in improving the look of its Traveller’s Palms I am available for hire.

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Cape Rachado – Pulau Masjid Beach

Three and a half years ago (time flies!) I wrote on this blog about Cape Rachado (Tanjung Tuan).

At that time I explored the lighthouse and the beach at the tip of the headland known as Pulau Intan beach.

I went back again recently to look for another beach, Pulau Masjid. Here is how to get there.

Map showing location of Pulau Masjid, Cape Rachado

After walking on the tarmac road through the forest from the main gate for about 10 minutes you will see a path leading off to the left.

Turn left here to go to Pulau Masjid Beach

Take that path which starts off as a concrete pavement with railings and later turns into a jungle track.

Path leading to Pulau Masjid Beach, Tanjung TuanPath leading to Pulau Masjid Beach, Tanjung Tuan

It only takes another ten minutes or so to descend to the beach. On the way you pass a well that looks pretty old, and a short stretch of boardwalk.

Old well at Pulau Masjid, Tanjung TuanBoardwalk to Pulau Masjid, Cape Rachado

Eventually you emerge at the shoreline and you can go left or right. On the right are some shelters and a sliver of beach where a frangipani tree somehow manages to survive.

Shelters on Pulau Masjid Beach, Tanjung TuanBeach at Pulau Masjid, Tanjung Tuan

The better beach is off to the left, overlooking an island, presumably the island that the beach is named after. There are some shelters here too.

Pulau Masjid Beach, Cape Rachado, Port Dickson

The water looked clear and clean but there was nobody there apart from a couple of fishermen.

Pulau Masjid Beach, Cape Rachado, Port Dickson

If you are looking for a peaceful spot away from the crowds on the nearby Port Dickson beaches you could consider this place. Take a few people along with you though – I thought there was a slightly eerie atmosphere here, but perhaps it was just the gloomy weather!

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Beautiful Art for a Beautiful Cause


École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine, Hanoi

When France was a colonial power it liked to infuse its overseas territories with a liberal dose of French culture. So in the case of Indochina, that included the French language, the Catholic religion, baguettes, wine, coffee, gendarmes and an appreciation of the arts.

The École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine was established in Hanoi in 1925 and it instilled western art traditions in generations of fine Vietnamese artists while laying the foundation for the development of a distinctively Vietnamese style of modern art.


   Left: Marché de montagne, by Nguyễn Tường Lân (before 1946).                                                 Right: Lê Phô (1907-1947)

The school survived wars and independence and has since evolved into the Vietnam University of Fine Arts. Vietnam today is well known for its artists who can knock up a fine reproduction Monet or Van Gogh as well as produce the Vietnam street scenes that are so popular with foreign tourists.

Of course, most art is produced for profits but while researching Da Nang I came across a gallery with a nobler cause.

The Da Nang Artists Company aims to provide talented, disabled Vietnamese artists with a way to market their artwork to an appreciative international clientele.

This acrylic painting of Hoi An was is the work of disabled artist Nguyen Tan Hien who lost the use of his legs and partial use of his arms following a traffic accident.  He is a self-taught artist and did not have the benefit of University of Fine Arts training but I think his work is rather nice. Here is one of his watercolours:

You can find more paintings and some silk brocade work on Da Nang Artist’s website. They are available for sale at very reasonable prices and can be shipped world wide.

Da Nang Artists is run by a big-hearted American couple called Virginia and David Lockett who also run a small charity called Steady Footsteps providing physical rehabilitation for disabled people in Central Vietnam. Virginia is an experienced physical therapist who wanted to help improve the lives of the disabled in Vietnam. In 2005 they gave up their comfortable life in America and moved to Da Nang to begin their good work.

Please take a look at Steady Footsteps’ website and read their inspiring story. You might even want to give a donation. They draw no salary so 100% of all contributions goes directly to the people who need it (unlike organizations such as UNICEF, Save the Children or Oxfam whose senior staff pay themselves six-figure, fat-cat salaries from your donations).

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Marble Mountains, Da Nang


The Marble Mountains are a cluster of five limestone and marble outcrops just south of Da Nang. The largest one, from where this photo was taken, is riddled with caves containing Buddhist statues and altars.



Visitors can either climb the stairs or use the lift.


The gardens on the hill are nicely landscaped and there are temples, pagodas and lots of paths to explore. A flight of stairs leads you to the highest point from where you can enjoy a good view of the surrounding area.


During the Vietnam War there was a large American military base near here and off-duty GI’s would take some R&R on the nearby beaches, the most famous of which was called China Beach (now known as My Khe). In fact this stretch of coastline from Da Nang to Hoi An is one continuous 25km long beach, and is rated as one of the world’s best.


A number of smart resort hotels line the beach, including this one, about to be deluged by some heavy rain.

The village at the foot of the hill makes its living from making sculptures, statues and ornaments from marble, onyx and other stones. These stones were originally excavated from the Marble Mountains (hence the many caves) but this practice has now been banned and the raw materials are shipped in from elsewhere.

Your transportation to Marble Mountain will almost certainly park in the forecourt of one of these stone mason shops and you can expect some hard-selling vendors to try and part you from your money once you return to your vehicle.


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Son Tra Guan Yin Statue, Vietnam

Son Tra Guan Yin Statue, Da Nang, Vietnam

Just north of Da Nang, on the Son Tra Peninsula, stands a massive white statue dedicated to the Buddhist Goddess of Compassion (or Mercy), known as Chùa Linh Ứng in Vietnamese, as Guan Yin in Chinese and as Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit.

Son Tra Guan Yin Statue, Da Nang, Vietnam

Completed in 2010 after six years of construction, the statue is 69.7m high (229ft) with 17 storeys inside. This makes it the 4th tallest Guan Yin statue in the world, the taller ones being:

  1. Guan Yin Statue of the South Seas, Sanya, China, 108m
  2. Guan Yin of Weishan, China, 99m
  3. Chi Shan Temple, Hong Kong, 76m

Son Tra Guan Yin Statue, Da Nang, Vietnam

According to Buddhist belief, Guan Yin vowed never to rest in heavenly Buddhahood until every human and creature on this earth is free from suffering (I fear she is in for a long wait). She is often depicted with 1000 arms – a thousand helping hands of compassion. For her compassion towards animals she is associated with vegetarianism and her likeness is commonly displayed in Chinese vegetarian restaurants.

Son Tra Guan Yin Statue, Da Nang, Vietnam

The grounds surrounding the statue also contain a temple, a monastery and other facilities. Gardens are decorated with bonsai trees, fountains and statues of arhats (enlightened persons).

Son Tra Guan Yin Statue, Da Nang, Vietnam

The hills backing onto the complex are known as Monkey Mountain, a name given by American troops during the Vietnam War, or American War as the Vietnamese know it.

Son Tra Guan Yin Statue, Da Nang, Vietnam

The statue looks out over the South China Sea and Da Nang, the fifth largest city in Vietnam with a population approaching 1 million.

Son Tra Guan Yin statue is well worth a visit if you are in the area. Entrance is free.

Son Tra Guan Yin Statue, Da Nang, Vietnam

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Hội An, Vietnam

Hoi An’s old buildings are well preserved despite being subject to annual flooding.

Air Asia recently resumed direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Da Nang, Vietnam. Since they were offering cheap discounted fares and I had never been to this part of Vietnam before I decided to take my sons for a short trip.

There are a number of temples, clan houses and museums which are open to the public.

We based ourselves in Hoi An, a small historic town around 30km south of Da Nang. Hoi An is every tourist’s idea of what Vietnam should look like with rice paddy fields, colourful markets, temples, locals in conical straw hats and so on. Of course reality is somewhat different but Hoi An old town is remarkably well preserved, in recognition of which it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Once a trading port, the town is now given over entirely to tourism.

Japanese Covered Bridge, originally 17th century but repaired several times since.

Tourists mill around the quaint, traffic-free streets (cars are banned from the old town centre), looking for souvenirs or somewhere to eat. Shopkeepers try to lure you into their tailor shops or sell you a pair of custom-made shoes. My son ordered a pair of Toms style slip-ons. They only took 6 hours to make and were not bad.

There are dozens of good restaurants and cafes to choose from in Hoi An. In this internet age where everyone gets their travel tips from Trip Advisor, there is a tendency for tourists to flock to the same few restaurants but we preferred to spread our custom to some of the less frequented ones and all the meals were excellent (and, importantly, no tummy problems!). The Hoa Vang Yellow River Riverside Restaurant tempted us in with its sign saying G’Day Mate, Tassie Australia, Coldest Beer in Town.

At night the silk and paper lantern stalls add to the atmosphere and old women try to sell candles in paper boats for floating down the river, which are later fished out by kids with nets and re-sold. There is a night market but by 9pm most of the shops have closed their shutters and the streets start to empty. Hoi An old town is not the place for a boisterous night life.

Many of the hotels, including the Ha An hotel where we stayed, provide free bikes for getting around. There are quiet rural lanes to explore close to town.

If you don’t want to pedal yourself you can always hire a cyclo.

Another popular activity is to take a river cruise.

Hoi An has the added advantage of being close to some very fine beaches. The best one we went to was called Hidden Beach, about a 6km bicycle ride (each way) from Hoi An.

Rattan coracles used by fishermen at Hidden Beach, Hoi An

Sunbeds and umbrellas are provided free of charge by the restaurant owners though of course you are expected to buy drinks or food from them.

Spot the rainbow?

We enjoyed our stay in Hoi An and would be happy to go again.

Relaxing Hoi An – It’s that kind of place!

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